IN THE COURT OF APPEAL OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
189 Cal.App.4th 1155 (2010)
117 Cal. Rptr. 3d 126
Plaintiff and Appellant.
SEVEN FORTY TWO COMPANY, INC.,
Defendant and Respondent.
On the 26th June 2008, the Plaintiff/Appellant, Michael Howe, suffered injuries when he fell off the ground after sitting on a counter stool at a restaurant owned by the Defendant/Respondent. Each of the seven counter stools in the restaurant was fastened to a metal base that was fixed onto a raiser that was fastened to the ground. Ever chair was fastened onto the metal base using three wood screws. The screws to the chair that the Plaintiff sat on were all broken near the heads of the screws. There was no indication that the stool or the screws were broken or were about to break. The Plaintiff alleged that when he sat on the stool and leaning back the chair fell off the base causing his fall and subsequent injuries. The Appellant did not know what caused the screws to break. Accordingly, the Appellant preferred accusation against the Respondent for general negligence and premises liability.
The Defendant provided evidence at the court of first instance to show that the stools were inspected regularly and made an application for summary judgment. The Appellant did not dispute the Defendant’s evidence but stated that the facts supported a presumption of negligence under the res ipsa loquitur doctrine. The trial court agreed with the Defendant and dismissed the case upon finding that there were no triable issues of the material fact, and judgment was entered to that effect. Subsequently, the Appellant filed an appeal faulting the trial court arguing that the res ipsa loquitur doctrine demonstrated that there was negligence hence raised a triable issue of material fact.
The issue that the appeal was to determine was whether the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur in a cause of action for negligence raised a triable issue as to any material fact.
The Evidence Code section 646(b) is the applicable law while the Di Mare v Cresci (1962) 58 Cal. 2d 292 and Brown v Poway Unified School District (1993) 4 Cal. 4th 820 cases are the applicable precedents. These cases relate to the determination of the sufficiency of circumstantial evidence of negligence and presumption affecting the onus of production of evidence respectively.
The Second Appellate District Court took note of the fact that the cause of action was negligence. An allegation of negligence required the party alleging to demonstrate that the Defendant owed him a duty of care, the defendant breached that duty, harm could not have occurred but for the Defendant’s actions, and that the Plaintiff suffered injuries. At the trial court, the defendant proved that regular inspections were carried out. The Defendant proved that before the Plaintiff’s fall there had been no similar incidents or apparent defects concerning the counter stools.
The Plaintiff argued that the res ipsa loquitur doctrine indicated the presence of negligence thereby raising a triable issue of material fact. The trial court clarified that the doctrine can be applied in cases where a past accident occurred because someone was negligent, and it is likely that the defendant is the person responsible.
The Court concluded that there was enough proof to show that the res ipsa loquitur doctrine was applicable. The court observed that the section 646 of the Evidence Code categorizes the doctrine as a presumption that affects the burden of evidence production. Once the plaintiff establishes facts that create the presumption the burden of proof shifts to the defendant to show that he was not negligent or that there is no proximate basis that the injuries suffered were due to negligence. However, if any of the three established facts are rebutted, the presumption vanishes. These facts are:
- That a counter stool does not usually fall where there is no negligence,
- the counter stool was in the exclusive control of the defendant, and
- the Plaintiff used the counter stool in the usual manner.
In the immediate case, the justices observed that the established facts were not disputed hence they provided a triable issue of material fact that warranted the rejection of a motion for summary judgment at the trial court.
The Appellate court reversed the decision of the trial court. The court further allowed the Plaintiff to recover the costs of the appeal.